Created by Stan Burns and Mike Marmer , Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp originally aired on ABC on Saturday morning's from September 1970 through to September 1972. A truly bizarre show, the series' concept was basically to take Get Smart (a series that Burns and Marmer had both worked on as writers) and basically do the same thing - except with chimpanzees in place of human actors. Not animated chimpanzees, mind you, but real flesh and blood critters. In short, this is a comedic series about monkey secret agents battling monkey bad guys, with periodic breaks for musical interludes in which the monkey cast members play rock 'n' roll music as a band called 'The Evolution Revolution.'
At any rate, the titular chimp works for an agency called The Agency To Prevent Evil (or A.P.E. for short) and reports to Commander Darwin, the main chimp in charge. He and his cohort, a female chimp named Mata Hairi, are tasked with thwarting the sinister plans of a rival agency called Criminal Headquarters For The Underworld's Master Plan (or C.H.U.M.P. for short), run by the villainous Baron Von Butcher. As Lance and Mata square off against C.H.U.M.P. in each episode of the series, they run into various nefarious C.H.U.M.P. agents like Creto, Dragon Woman, Wang Fu, Ali Assa Seen, The Duchess and the sinister Dr. Strangemind; all of whom are willing to do whatever it takes to help Baron Von Butcher take over the world. As the Baron seems to have a pretty wild imagination, he's able to come up with more hair brained schemes than you can shake a banana at, which tends to keep Lance, Mata and Darwin pretty busy - but not so busy that they can't take time out to have a good time once in a while. Heck, even the bad guys have to break into song once in a while...
Very definitely a product of its time, this series is flat out nuts. Monkeys don't just stand there and mouth words in this show, no, they drive cars, motorcycles, boats and planes - they do stunts, they fight, and they 'play' musical instruments. They also tend to dress up in various disguises throughout the show all while the narration, and usually the dialogue, plays things pretty straight. The end result is this weird, and at times almost surreal, series that is pretty consistently funny simply because it's about a bunch of monkeys doing things that monkeys don't usually do. The novelty can wear off after a couple of episodes to be sure and this complete series collection is a lot to take in and best enjoyed spread out over at least a few days, but all in all Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp is still a pretty entertaining show - and it really does owe quite a lot to Get Smart, sometimes working on that same sort of level (not surprising given the aforementioned involvement of the series' creators). Again, keeping that whole 'product of its time' disclaimer in mind, the more politically sensitive out there might take offense to some of the racial stereotypes portrayed here. While you never get the impression there was deliberate malice intended on the part of the writers, it's sometimes hard not to cringe at an Arab monkey wearing a turban or an Asian monkey continually saying 'ah so' after pretty much every line. This is hardly the only place you see stereotypes of this sort when discussing shows from this period, but it is a bit off putting in this day and age.
Let's not overanalyze that aspect of the series though. This is a show about good monkey secret agents stopping evil monkey supervillains chock full of wacky highjinks, screwy chase scenes, weird physical comedy and horrible dubbing. In fact, some of the voices used for the series might sound familiar to seasoned fans of seventies and eighties television, particularly the narrator who is pretty much instantly recognizable as Malachi Throne, the man who introduced each and every episode of Knight Rider and who co-starred in It Takes A Thief and who also appeared on Star Trek, Batman and plenty of other classic TV shows.
The episodes that make up the entire run of the series are presented as follows:
There's No Business Like Snow Business
The Lone A.P.E. / Missile Beach Party
The Mysterious Motorcycle Menace / The Great Beauty Contest
C.H.U.M.P. Takes A Holiday / To Tell The Tooth
The Great Brain Drain / The Great Double Double Cross
Lance Of Arabia / The Doctor Goes A.P.E.
The Surfin' Spy / The Missing Link
Bonana / The Greatest Chase In The World
The Reluctant Robot / The Royal Foil
The Great Great Race / The Great Plane Plot
Landlubber Lance / The Temporary Thanksgiving Turkey Truce
The Dreaded Hong Kong Sneeze / The Great Bank Robbery
The Sour Taste Of Success / The Baron's Birthday Ball
The Golden Sword / The Chilling C.H.U.M.P. Chase
The Spy Who Went Out In The Cold / Too Many C.H.U.M.P.s
The C.H.U.M.P. Code Caper / Weather Or Not
The Evolution Revolution / The Great Water Robbery
The series does get a bit repetitive over time and it's not surprising in hindsight that it didn't stay on the air all that long but as a bizarre curiosity item this series is a kick. Not only do you get all manner of action, intrigue, suspense and comedy performed by a game cast of chimps who appear to have no idea what's going on, you get those same chimps kinda-sorta lip synching to various pop numbers while dressed up like beatniks and rock stars playing around with instruments too. It's all very, very odd but somehow fairly compelling in spite of itself.
Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp looks decent enough presented here in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio, just as it was broadcast roughly forty years ago. Given the age of the series the picture quality is perfectly acceptable. Some minor print damage is present here and there but there's nothing too distracting. Colors don't always look perfect but they do generally look quite good and detail isn't bad either. Reference quality? No, but not bad at all.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono track is crisp, clear and well balanced. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the strange dubbed dialogue is plenty easy to follow. The score used throughout the series sounds fine and there are only a few instances of mild distortion. Given the age of the series it's understandable that it sounds a little limited in range but all in all the series sounds just fine.
The extras kick off with a seven minute clip called Chimpies that is a collection of random related bits and pieces from the series. Also included here is a collection of Evolution Revolution shorts. These are the 'band' numbers from the series presented separately and they're just weird enough to work. If you liked what you saw in the main episodes, take the time to check this stuff out too. Weird, but kind of awesome.
Also included is a featurette entitled I Created Lancelot Link. Created by by Diane Bernard and Jeff Krulik in 1999, this featurette does a good job of explaining the story behind the series by way of some interviews with series creators Stan Burns and Mike Marmer among others. Interviews with producer Allan Sandler and musical director Bob Emenegger are also included, they actually precede the documentary, so you have to sort of skim through everything that's compiled here in one big chunk. Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, and some fun footage shot in 2011 that shows what the chimp that played Lancelot Link has been up to - hanging out in the Wildlife Waystation Animal Sanctuary in Los Angeles and seemingly having a great time swinging around and doing chimp related things. It should be noted that some of the proceeds from the sale of this set will go towards keeping Lancelot happy at the sanctuary, which is nice to see.
Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp arrives on DVD in pretty nice shape from Film Chest who have not only compiled every one of the seventeen episodes that make up the series but thrown in some pretty solid extra features as well. The series is just strange enough that fans of oddball kids shows will want to give it a look, so long as they don't feel the need to overanalyze it or take any of it in the least bit seriously. Solid audio and video quality also helps, as the episodes all look pretty good here. Not for all tastes to be sure but if this sounds like something that's up your alley, consider the set recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.